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In Senegal, Executive Director sees community action to end female genital cutting

© UNICEF Senegal/2006/Bakker
On her visit to Senegal, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman (centre) meets with Duusu Konate (left) and Fatou Diakhate (right), who have both been active in efforts to end female genital mutilation.

By Nisha Bakker

KEUR SIMBARA, Senegal, 13 November 2006 – On a visit to Senegal, Executive Director Ann M. Veneman has witnessed firsthand how UNICEF and its partners are using a community-based approach to empower women and children – notably on the issue of female genital mutilation, or cutting (FGM/C). 

Along with representatives of the non-governmental organization Tostan, Ms. Veneman travelled to Keur Simbara, a village 70 km outside Senegal’s capital, Dakar. Tostan and UNICEF are working together to help the villagers – women and girls in particular – understand their rights, speak up and make decisions for themselves.

Sitting in the shade in the village centre, local residents gathered to share their stories with Ms. Veneman and Tostan Executive Director Molly Melching. Among them was Duusu Konate, a local woman who has become an active member of the community through the UNICEF-supported programme.

Abandoning harmful practices

“Ms. Veneman, you have no idea of how our village was before the programme,” said Ms. Konate. “In this village, when men were discussing under this tree, we women did not even dare to pass by. I was so shy if men were around, I would never raise my voice. And speaking in public would certainly make me tremble.

“Now, I and many other women and men in this village have studied and have learned about our rights, about equality and non-discrimination,” she added. “It has given me confidence to speak in front of you and address my community.”

Ms. Konate now regularly speaks out against harmful practices such as FGM/C. After learning of the physical and psychological harms of cutting, Ms. Konate – herself circumcised at a young age – took up a crucial role in raising awareness about the ancient practice and taking steps toward its abandonment across Senegal.

© UNICEF video
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and children of Keur Simbara, a village outside Dakar, Senegal.

“In the past, if you did not get cut, you could not get married in this village,” she said. “You would never find a husband. But that has changed and many people from different tribes are getting married out of love. I have now travelled to 180 villages and sensitized them, and in the end, convinced them to abandon female genital cutting.”

The Tostan model has proven successful. Today, nearly a third of the 5,000 communities that used to perform FGM/C in Senegal declared to have abandoned the practice.

Community-based approach

The community-based approach – which has been implemented in hundreds of Senegalese villages – not only makes a real impact on FGM/C but also has improved the country’s school enrolment levels, birth registration rates and vaccination coverage. Tostan’s programmes also focus on ensuring women’s participation in family and society, helping improve their economic condition and putting an end to other scourges such as early child marriage.

“I think what makes the Tostan programme really unique is the fact that we do so much training on human rights, and we do it in a way that is applicable in their own culture,” said Ms. Melching, who has been working on development issues in Senegal for more than 30 years.

After seeing the strides made by working with partners like Tostan, Ms. Veneman was impressed with the result.

“One thing is clear to me,” she told the villagers in Keur Simbara. “You have come so far because you respect each other, because you are having positive interactions. This community-based approach to development is not just a project – it is a movement.”




13 November 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on Executive Director Ann M. Veneman’s visit to Senegal.
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